Chapter 71: Lionheart - Demi Lovato
I needed to hold up my dress to keep myself from tripping over the hem as we walked down the banquet hall steps. I held onto Milo for additional balance.
Adam and Morgan were right behind us initially, but Morgan needed to turn back when she realized Finn and Sami were no longer with her. We decided to wait for them. Adam was outside with us but he stood at a distance, speaking to whom I presumed to be one of the far guards on the phone.
“Are you cold?” Milo put his arm around me, his back resting against a brick wall.
“It feels nice. It was hot in there.” My chest was pressed to his side. My wrist rested on his shoulder as I ran my fingers through his hair.
“You are so beautiful.” He smiled, looking into my eyes.
“My dress makes me feel like a cake topper. I love it.”
“I love you.” He retorted in the same playful tone I was using.
I grinned and rubbed my nose against his. He took that opportunity to kiss me. I was receptive, moving my hand to the side of his face. He pulled my body close to his.
I separated my face from his and moved my arms around his neck. “At home.”
“They’re taking forever.”
“You know we have to wait for Adam. He is right there. We can’t do anything front of him. Not again.”
“He didn’t see anything.”
“Do you enjoy the idea of doing something later?”
“Yes.” He smirked.
“Then don’t argue with me.”
His smirk progressed into a smile and he kissed the top of my head.
“I found them.” Morgan was holding Sam’s hand with one of her hands and Finn’s with the other.
“Where is Ryan?” Milo asked
“He left a while ago.”
“How long ago?”
“I don’t know. A while. Why?” She answered.
“Where is Elle?” He continued his suspiciously urgent questioning.
“Why do you care so much?” I questioned.
“She is still in there with Nicky. He said he would walk her home as soon as she was ready.”
“Okay.” He ignored me and responded to her.
He removed his arms from my waist to retrieve his phone.
“Hey, where are you?” He put his free hand into his pocket as he spoke into the phone.
“Home.” I was close enough to hear Ry’s response.
“I wouldn’t have answered if I was with someone.”
“You answered in Listonenia.”
“I was in a foreign country. Rules are different.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m going to bed. I had to turn up the wattage pretty high to get through tonight and I’m exhausted.”
“Do you want anything?”
“What is wrong with you? I know your hot girlfriend is a foot away. Stop talking to me.”
“Beautiful fiancée.” Milo corrected, acknowledging my listening by offering me a soft apologetic smile.
“I still don’t know how you pulled her. She could do so much better. Take good care of her to prevent her from realizing it.”
“I am pretty sure she can hear you.”
I nodded to let him know I could.
“Even better. I kept her from wasting a few years of her life.”
“I thought you wanted to talk.” He picked with him.
“Bye.” Milo hung up the phone.
“Why are you worried about him?”
He shook his head.
“You have things that will always remain between you and Elle. Let us have them too.”
“Okay.” I kissed him.
“Okay.” He kissed me again.
His phone was returned to his pocket. He picked up my hand and the two of us started walking. I swung my arm to do the same to his. He lifted my arm and allowed me to twirl in a circle. He dipped me after the fact. He concluded our little dance by scooping me up into his arms. I tied my arms around his neck for security.
“You think you can carry me the whole way?”
“We’ll see. I need to practice. I don’t want to drop you over the threshold.”
“I’ll file for an annulment if you do.”
“Is hitting your foot on a door frame allowed?”
“Of course it is. I don’t want to leave you. I love you.” I rested my head against his.
He managed to get me to my dorm and into my room with only a few arm adjustment pauses. He dropped me onto my bed once we were there, his arms tired.
“You did much better than expected.” I propped myself up with my elbows.
“You should have more faith in me.” He loosened his tie.
“I do when it matters.” I used my feet to kick off my shoes. “We’re home.”
He stripped off his jacket and tie and stepped out of his shoes before joining me on the bed. I put my hand on the side of his face to accept his mouth.
The Monday after prom was the first day of our last full week of school. It started as all Mondays did. I got dressed and left for breakfast with my suitemates. The stares started on the path. They got worse in the food line. They came to a head in the dining hall.
“Do you know what is going on?” I arranged my hair to create a curtain around my face as I looked down at my plate.
“No and I’m ashamed of myself.” Elle lifted her phone from its face down position on the table.
“Where are Milo and Adam?” I posed my question to the table.
They were the only two missing.
“Home thing. We were shooed out by guards without being given answers, which I didn’t appreciate. I should be able to take my sweet time in my own home.” Ryan was quick to answer.
“Why didn’t he tell me?”
Finn shrugged. “Aren’t you all sentimental about today or something?”
Morgan offered to take care of my tray if I wanted to leave. I thanked her before eating the entirety of my yogurt in three scoops and took my grape juice box to go.
“Did he propose to you?” Anna met me at the door.
She caught sight of my ring before I could answer. She took my left hand into her right one. “You said yes.”
“It’s none of anyone’s business.” I confiscated my hand.
“We were dragged into it. I was dragged into it. “ She seethed.
“Walk with me.” I requested, looking over my shoulder. I caught an uncomfortable amount of people trying to eavesdrop on our conversation.
“I’m leaving because I was on my way out the door, not because you asked.”
“You don’t like me. I get it. Please catch me up on what is going on.” I waited until we were outside to ask her.
“Your official prom picture with Milo and the stupid one you took with your friends surfaced online. There’s a ring on a certain finger in both of them. Everyone everywhere is abuzz about SMA, finally knowing where you go to school, and your relationship status. Everyone here is expressing their condolences to me because he chose you. Catching on to why I’m upset?”
“Do you know how the pictures got out?”
“The photographer, I guess. Everyone thinks you’re pregnant again, that he has to step up to the plate this time.”
“I was never and am not pregnant.” I was firm.
“I saw Elle’s PowerPoint. I also know she wouldn’t have let you out of her sight if you so much as thought you were. She’s great like that.”
“Was it him?” I held my breath.
“God, no. It was freshman year. False alarm, thankfully.”
I let out a sigh of relief.
“I’m sure you know he’s really uptight about it, even when he’s drunk or hi---“ She trailed off when she reached a tough reminder of their history. “You know, right? Is that how you cornered him, withholding the goods?”
I rolled my eyes. “No, I didn’t ‘corner’ him. I didn’t even know he was going to ask me.”
“How did you do it? The boy is obscenely loaded and impeccably connected, not even taking his looks into consideration. He’d have more options than he’d know what to do with in college if he didn’t dedicate himself to you, which is saying something because he is insati–“
“I’m so close to running away. Speak your piece.”
“I refuse to be taunted for a stupid impulse move, which we both know he is very prone to making. I need to know if it’s real.”
“He’s gotten much better about that. I’m willing to endure his life for the rest of my mine because I love him more than I thought possible. I said yes because I know he feels the same way. This ring represents the most significant promise we’ve made to each other and intend to keep.”
“Don’t hurt him. He’s a sweet guy when he’s sober. He likes to take care of people for whatever reason, even ones that don’t exactly deserve it.” She was uncharacteristically kind.
“He has straightened up, but he knows I will need to walk away if he falls off the wagon. It goes far beyond legality; it’s personal. My health and happiness matter too.”
“Great answer.” She shifted back to her typical blunt tone.
“I’m being quizzed?”
“I told you I needed to know if he was being reckless and charmed you into acting on impulse with him. He has a way with words and his face certainly helps.”
“He helped me find my voice. He’s the last person I’d lose it to. He always hears me.”
“How did you do it?”
“I didn’t. I encouraged him to stop hiding the person I knew him to be. We discovered new things about him along the way. It made both of us fall in love.”
I nodded. “We discovered and fell in love with me too.” I paused. “Did my explanation make sense? I now realize that was a very strange way of saying ‘I didn’t change him, I got to know him’.”
“You talk a lot.”
“Only when I’m nervous.” I sheepishly smiled in her direction.
“Are you afraid of me?”
“No, um -- these circumstances are uncomfortable.”
“We’ve known two very different people. The more you speak, the more I realize it and am inclined to help.”
“I’m sorry you were dragged into this.”
“I would be so much meaner to you if this were the other way around.”
“What I’m saying is, you’re a nice person. That’s probably why he likes you.”
“That came out bitchier than intended. I’m not saying niceness is all you have going for you. You sound pretty smart when we’re in English class. You dance well. You’re the only one here I’m willing to lose a role to or understudy for. And you’re pretty, you know, in your own little way.”
I stalled in my tracks and looked at her with astonishment, flabbergasted by her audacity
“We both know you’re cute. He wouldn’t gaggingly call you beautiful all the time if it weren’t true. He’s withholding, but he’s not a liar. Let me have this one. It’s so hard for me to know I could’ve had this life and I blew it. ”
“I’d like to think he wouldn’t have been inclined to propose to anyone else this young.”
“Again, let me have this. I’m willing to help you. Do you know how much he splurged on that ring? It’s stunning.”
“It’s one of his ancestors’. I don’t even want to think about how much it’s worth.”
“Lots if it’s from his dad’s side. It was once worn by a queen and it’s only increased in value over time.”
“Can we not talk about this? All this talk of his money is making me feel like you think I’m using him for it.”
“I know you’re not. I wouldn’t have given you the benefit of the doubt and be talking to you if I believed you were mining him.”
“Thank you for helping us in your own little way.”
“I’ve started doing this thing where I don’t make others’ lives more difficult simply because I can get away with it. I’ve also stopped reserving my ability to help for when it’s convenient. My brother calls it empathy. I’m not a pro at it yet, but I’m trying.”
“It sounds like you’ve had a busy year.”
“You could say that. You’re free to go to him now. I’ve collected the info I need. Good luck.”
“Thank you. I need it.”
She waved goodbye as she continued on her way.
I took a deep breath to clear my head before scanning my keycard to gain access to his dorm building. I used my master key to enter his suite without knocking.
“How did you get in here?” An official bodyguard confronted me from the living room.
Adam was seated on the couch, surrounded by a squad of Milo’s protectors. He subtly waved at me, probably fearful of getting into trouble for engaging the potential security threat.
“Key.” I held it up as I continued my determined stride to Milo’s room.
I overheard Adam fibbing about Milo issuing me a key as I walked into their room without warning. Milo was passionately speaking on the phone in Italian as he paced his room, too worked up to sit down. He was in his glasses and pajamas, making it very evident he had not wandered far from his room all morning.
He turned to look at me when he heard the click of the closing door. I drank the remainder of my juice to calm down. He quickly concluded his phone call.
“I take it that you know.” I stayed at the door.
“Why didn’t you call me as soon as you found out? The whole school has been staring at me all morning. Your ex-girlfriend broke the news to me!”
“She spoke to you?“ He stepped forward in my direction.
I held up my hands, non-verbally telling him to stop. He listened.
“Yes. She told me things I should’ve heard from you!”
“Can you tell me what she said? I’m not okay with her going after you.”
“It was fine. Start talking!”
“I was woken up by them.” He pointed in the direction of the living room. “They picked up my phone, handed it to me and told me to call Will. I was too angry to think after he told me what happened!”
I threw my juice box into the trash with more force than necessary. “You shouldn’t have left me to face them alone! They’re whispering behind our backs and think I am pregnant again! You--”
A knock on the door interrupted our argument.
“Yes?” Milo addressed them.
“Is she distressing you, Your Highness? I can remove her at once.” A guard replied.
“No, I like it when she yells at me.” A soft smile served as a peace offering.
“Is she coercing you to say that?”
“Wha—“ I looked at the door in disbelief.
“She is Isabella, my fiancée. She has concerns and we are trying to discuss them privately. Is that alright with you?” He powerfully stood up for me without raising his voice.
“Yes, Sire, of course, Sire.” He stammered as he presumably left us alone.
I ran a hand through my hair and crossed my arms.
“Where were we?” He prompted the restart of our conversation.
“Were you defending me on the phone? Is that why you were so upset?” I momentarily looked away before turning my eyes to him.
“Yes. Most of the advisors did not know I had proposed. Only Will ,Genette, and Verna did. I was placed in a conference call and had to deal with all of them debating my decision to be with you.”
“The consensus did not sound good.”
“I don’t care about them. I know I’m always going to want you.”
“You can hold me if you want to.” I knew it calmed him down.
He did not hesitate encasing me in his arms. “I’m sorry.” He rubbed my back.
“We knew this day would come.”
“I thought we had more time.”
“I’ll always want you too.”
He turned his head to kiss the side of my face. “What did Anna say to you?”
“She was a bit crass at times, but she was genuinely trying to be nice to me.”
“I was reminded that you slept with her, that someone else knows you’re competent in bed first hand.”
“I’ll talk to her. She can’t go around saying things like that, especially now and to you.”
“I’d rather you not. I’m trying hard enough as it is to push back the imagery and not compare my body to hers.”
“You’re beautiful, Baby.” He kissed my forehead.
“Don’t.” My eyes were closed.
“The photographer the school hired is the culprit behind the leak. He is in hot water. A video of us interacting outside after prom was posted online too. They do not know who made it.” He changed the subject.
“Is Adam in trouble?”
“No. He is being praised for keeping students within the prom from taking photos of us. He was on the phone with other guards when the video was shot. He was doing his job the entire night.”
“I thought everyone agreed to give us our space.”
“I did too, but the selling prices for peeks into our relationship have been sky high since your birthday according to Will.”
“Because they saw my ring.”
“There was merely speculation of it being an engagement ring that day. Our prom pictures were much clearer. It was identified by royal experts as a significant heirloom.”
“What does our video look like?”
“There’s no audio, but it shows us talking, kissing, talking again, and me carrying you to your dorm. It is being played on every news channel in Listonenia.”
“Now the whole world knows you took me home, that you probably got me into bed. This is humiliating.”
“I was speaking the way I was on the phone because I share your opinion. What we do behind closed doors is between us.”
“What is the American coverage like?”
“Much less intense, but present. They are mostly questioning the reasoning.”
“They think I’m pregnant. Anna mentioned everyone at school thinks I am.” I stepped back and shook out my hands as my breathing hitched.
“I-I have to call my family. I can’t – I don’t want anyone to believe them. When you bluffed to your family, I was – I was okay because they were quick to accept the truth. The world -- they won’t be so forgiving. I don’t want --” My breathing was as accelerated as my speech.
He approached me with apprehension, not wanting to force physical contact. I walked within his outstretched arms. I buried my face in his chest when he hugged me tight. I took deep breaths, taking in his familiar scent.
“I’m right here.” He kissed the top of my head. He held me and rubbed my back as the light pressure decreased my anxiety.“The advisors have told the media outlets that you are most definitely not pregnant. They have accepted it.”
“Are you sure?”
“I am positive. Look at the television.”
I turned my head in its direction, remaining in his arms. It was on and tuned to a local news channel. The audio was off, but the subtitles dictated what the anchors were saying.
“They really just want to know why you want to be with me?”
“Yes, I have to explain myself now and I thought I had another week. I’m sorry I left you out of this dilemma. I’m still learning.”
He knew how to stand up for me, but he struggled to let me know he was scared to do it for himself.
“I’ll do the interview with you this time.”
“You don’t have to do it.”
“I want to. I’m not ashamed of us. I was in a different place last summer.”
“You just had a panic attack.”
“Because I thought I’d have to call my Yaya and explain the dynamics of our sex life. She fearlessly pries and I can’t lie to her. She can always tell.”
“That is enough to cause terror.”
“She already knows too much because of my trial. I can’t face her again with this. She brought Papi up last time, saying he’d be displeased with my behavior.”
“She was angry with herself. She saw my mom in me, who’s done a lot. I let it go, but I can’t go through it a second time.”
I sighed and returned my face to his chest. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Beautiful.” He rubbed my back and kissed the top of my head.
“I’m sorry for yelling at you.”
“I was being honest when I said that I love it.”
“What’s wrong with you?” I looked up at him with a smile.
“You’re passionate. I’ve always loved that about you.”
I pressed my lips to his.
“What are we going to say when we face them?” He pushed my hair out of my face.
“The truth. We just want to be together. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“I am happy you know that.”
“I don’t care about what your advisors said about me. You don’t share their sentiments nor will you allow them to sway you. You’re headstrong. I’ve always loved that about you.”
He put his hand on the side of my face and caressed my cheek with his thumb. “I do not deserve you, but I will try my hardest each day to make you happy, to make you glad you chose me.”
“I only need you, the real you.”
He leaned in to kiss me.
I accepted his silent promise. “Okay.”
“Okay.” He smiled into our next kiss.